Net Neutrality: Will it make a difference?

March 6, 2015

You’ve surely heard the news—this week Net Neutrality cleared a major hurdle by gaining FCC approval. While there are still many unknowns in regards to the plan and how or when it will take effect, one thing is for sure: the online viewing experience will still be highly susceptible to interruptions and breakdowns.

Whatever your stance on Net Neutrality in general, you may be wondering how prohibiting ISP’s from blocking, throttling, or prioritizing network traffic will solve our IPTV problems. It likely won’t. And here’s why:

First, there is little evidence that ISP’s were ever throttling access to select content. An analysis of Conviva data found scarce reason to believe accusations that providers were prioritizing certain traffic. Additionally, the only credible accusation we saw of this came in the very public (not to mention messy) Netflix dispute with broadband service providers Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner Cable.

Dan Rayburn of Streaming Media debunked the claim when he said:

“The deals between Netflix and the ISPs don’t involve prioritization of Netflix’s traffic, at any level. Netflix pays to get a direct connection to Comcast’s network, but both companies have publicly said the data itself is not being prioritized. Also, do we know of a single instance where an ISP is actually doing paid prioritization? I have yet to see a single example.”

Read his full article, here.

Although it’s nice that new regulations may prevent this from occurring in the future, it looks like we may be trying to solve a problem that doesn’t currently exist.

Another reason you can still expect to see video quality degradations? The simple principles of supply and demand. Currently, the race between bandwidth supply and demand is being won by demand. This isn’t to say there isn’t enough bandwidth, but rather that capacity isn’t always where you need it, when you need it.

As one CDN is reaching peak capacity and battling traffic congestion, there is often another with plenty of bandwidth available. Initially, infrastructure providers had to deal with the overwhelming demand for user-generated content. Later, they had the task of handling the demands of online video giants like Netflix—and now they have the bandwidth-heavy demands of UltraHD knocking at the door. Ultimately the problem isn’t whether or not you have enough bandwidth, it’s being able to know when and where viewer demands are going to spike so that proper infrastructure is in place to handle it.

So what does Net Neutrality approval mean? It means we have some upset broadband providers. (Did you catch Verizon’s clever Morse code blog post in response to the decision?) It means Internet companies who were scared of these large broadband carriers misusing their gatekeeper authority will sleep a little easier . And most importantly, it means that online viewers will still expect a high quality experience that mirrors that of pay-TV services—and that the Internet is still just as complicated to navigate and deliver on those expectations.

At Conviva, we’re committed to the proposition that every consumer should get the best possible viewing experience – regardless of their device, network, platform, ISP, or any of the other myriad conditions that can have an impact. The data are clear: maximizing the total experience delivers optimal engagement, which is a win for viewer and provider alike. Net neutrality or no net neutrality, we will continue to work toward a world where every IP-delivered experience meets and exceeds the TV experience.